Craig Park (Fullerton Dam)

This park, Tri-City Park, Clark Park and Carbon Canyon Park are county parks in the Fullerton end of the county. You can tell in an instant that there’s a bigger budget for maintenance. It is so green and so carefully manicured. City parks are this well groomed only if they are small. The large areas under the city Parks Department are more in the way of preserves. The kind of parks this website celebrates are those that host trails that are dirt and rough. Orange County parks all have an educational aspect to them in that there are signs which teach and there’s at least one park ranger in each county park. A park ranger has college degrees in one of the natural sciences and are eager to answer questions on the flora and fauna of their park and the surrounding area. I have found though, that guys in county trucks who maintain the parks are pretty knowledgeable too.
Most county parks have events or lectures. (This one does not; Clark Park has the most.) All county parks charge $5 ($3 on week days) to come into the park with your car but no charge for those that walk in. They don’t even care if you walk in before the park officially opens. The $5 charge is not just for parking though. You can drive around in the park to the various sport venues or any of a dozen places to picnic. Bringing your car in allows you to bring picnic stuff or play equipment.
For walkers, the list of sports facilities may be of little interest. (It’s a lot, by the way; check this out . . . http://www.ocparks.com/parks/ted/amenities) Even walking the park itself is not much of a challenge unless you need concrete sidewalks. (This park is wonderful for those in an electric wheel chair.) But there is a couple of interesting walks for those of us into dirt trails.
First, parking…

Parking
The $5 entrance is on State College Blvd is about a block south of Imperial. But walking in through that same entrance is free and the most popular parking for that way of entering is alongside State College. There is also a parking lot behind Cocos on Imperial.
But those are the obvious places and walking to the entrance although only a block or so, is all sidewalk and noisy. There are ways you can walk into the park from Associated Road but it’s for the neighbors and parking for the public is awkward to say the least.

Dirt trail from Summit House, south of Bastanchury

More Interesting Parking Places
For those that drive to the park but want to walk in on trails, there’s two very interesting ways. You can walk between houses into Craig Park from a cul-de-sac of Rolling Hills Drive. Rolling Hills Drive cul-de-sac: From State College and Bastanchury go north on State College to the second right. The No Parking signs are kind of tricky. Be sure to read the time they are good for.

There’s an even more interesting way to get to Craig Park on foot starting at the Summit House Restaurant. Their parking is shared with the Parks Department. (The restaurant is actually on Parks Department land.) You can get there from either Bastanchury or State College. Park in the back lot. Find your way walking down hill (north) to the sidewalk on Bastanchury. Walk up (east) to the corner of State College and Bastanchury. First cross Bastanchury to check out view from Mountain View Park. Cross State College to the gravel trail that goes down (north) along State College the equivalent of a block and a half. You can’t miss the trail that leads into Craig Park. It is another block or so the trail becomes dirt as it enter the park. Further into the park it will become a concrete trail.

Small arboretum where the trail from Summit House enters the park.

 

Walking in Craig Park
Where the concrete and dirt trails come together just inside the park, is a very well maintained arboretum about 40 feet long. Plants are not only labeled but they describe how the Indians in the area used them. The walk continues to the right but describing where to go next is difficult to explain because there are so many choices. If your goal is to make a large loop, choose the path that is furthest from the center of the park. Other paths will take you closer to the duck pond or further south to a large grass field that in the winter is host to hundreds of geese.
There’s a phone operated nature walk. It starts near the main entrance where the trail going south starts. You phone the number given, listen to a recording and put yourself on hold (the pound sign) between markers. Of course, on your own you can appreciate the ducks and the geese. There is always flowing water into and out of the lake.

A Bit About Lakes and Industry
The most interesting part of the lake (for an engineer anyway) is the south end where it trickles over a small dam. That is an example of a type of dam; the weir dam. It’s purpose it to keep the lake or the stream above it at a constant height. Historically the weir dam established the usefulness of “mill creeks” where that flow had to be the same all year long for all the grist mills along it.  The lake was held a constant level by the flow over the weir dam so that the streams taken from all around the lake had constant flow. The water over the weir dam was variable and not used by mills.

Funny Story
When asked of a maintenance person if there’s any danger of coyotes. He said, nah. Their too well fed. Come here sometime about dawn and you can see the mother coyote come down to get breakfast for her brood. She stands at the edge of the pond and waits for the ducks to swim over to her. She just grabs closest one and walks back up the hill. That’s why they don’t want you to feed the ducks. It make them too tame. But then on the other hand, the population of ducks seems to be stable, so why mess with the ecosystem any farther.

Entrance to two lush trails. Olinda on the left; Cottonwood on the right. (Click to get full screen.)

Cottonwood Loop
For walkers, this small loop will make your day. It is way into the most bottom point of the park where in the summer runoff water from Brea homes gathers and barely makes it to the dam. It is something of a grotto in that you are under a canopy of foliage. The sign to enter the loop can be seen where the park’s main road goes farthest south before turning back. The white arrow in the aerial photograph to the right points to the entry to “Cottonwood Loop.”  Once inside the grotto, the loop is very hard to follow because people have made exploratory journeys throughout. What makes it especially hard to follow is also what makes it so charming; it is so overgrown with vegetation that you cannot see out to get your bearings. Even the sun angle is hard to ascertain. Use the trick mentioned above for the largest loop; choose the path that is farthest from the center for the longest journey. In this case stay as far to the left as you can. Fullerton Creek flows through this overgrown area and even in the driest times of the year, it is a babbling brook.

Olinda Trail
Another trail that is well worth the trip into the park is a dirt trail named Olinda Trail. It is in the same low spot in front of the dam as the Cottonwood Loop but the growth is more on the sides of the trail and less on top of you. If you like to not have your horizon or the sky blocked, this you would prefer over the Cottonwood Loop. It is certainly different foliage and the trail is dirt instead of a layer of dead leaves. That means the ground is muddy. Because this is so close to the water table, the entire length of this trail will be muddy for even weeks after a rain. But heck that’s part of the experience. The mud will come off by the time you’ve walked back to your car.

The Fullerton Dam.

The Dam
Every square foot of that dam seems to be available to explore. To get to it can be readily discovered because of how visible it is; how free of foliage it is; how carefully groomed by the Army Corp of Engineers, it is. For more on how dams work see the webpage Dams and Spillways of Fullerton.
Instead of walking to its face which is kind of boring, there’s more to see toward the east where the trail up to that place is dirt again. You can find your way to the very crest of the dam and even walk across it. In the photo gallery below, there is an image of the dam taken in 1940 which you can compare to a picture taken from the exact same place 78 years later.

Click on the pictures to see them in full screen.

List of questions

  • Is the water in the lake Craig Park filtered?
  • How many miles of sidewalk trails altogether?
  • Are the ducks and geese there all year
  • One of the creeks is Fullerton Creek. What is the other one called.
  • The city boundaries show that it is mostly in Fullerton except for a strange zig zag that seems only to encompass a parking lot. Is there something interesting about that zig zag?

Suggestions

  • Cottonwood is probably prone to flooding so there is probably a minimum amount of maintenance to be done there. It is kind of confusing with all the trails people create in there. But rather than clear the loop-trail, to make it easier to follow perhaps some well-placed markers is all we need and more likely to survive the occasional flooding.
  • The deep ruts in the trail down from State College could be a real neat opportunity for merit badge projects for boy scouts. Let them figure out the best way to use mattocks and hoes to move the rut to one side. (It is my experience in observing U-channels that they are only slightly less of a maintenance headache than rut in dirt. And the rut in dirt seems so much more natural)
  • I think it should be recognized that hikers like dirt to walk on. One opportunity for that is a narrow undeveloped peninsula of land within Craig Park between E Rosalia Dr and Hickory Pl. A perimeter trail could add 1,400 feet of trail.
  • The phone information thing is wonderful, but it needs editing. It’s not clear if we should stay there and listen, or walk. One of them is way too long. It’s not clear how far to the next one. Even if there’s nothing to say, some extra posts should be there to tell us how far and which way to the next one.
  • If you need more parking or a maintenance yard, place it in near where the 57 Fwy is. It is terribly noisy there and a really stupid place to put picnic tables and well-manicured lawn.